The age of ‘fast power’

French paratroopers land outside Timbuktu: Photo: French Army Communications Office

By Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive of the IISS

We live in the age of ‘fast power’. Our sense of stability, and indeed the rise of insecurity, is dramatically affected by the speed with which events happen and the very many different agents of power with which governments and the private sector have to deal with. Power today is more plural than ever before and adequate responses to its malign use have also to be more various.

Governments, and the defence and foreign ministries that serve them, have to be readier to act at speed if they are to shape, rather than be shaped, by changing events. In the past, strategists asked if a country had ‘soft’ power, ‘hard’ power, or ‘smart’ power. Today they must assess the quality of a state or of an alliance’s ‘fast power’ if they are to make a proper appreciation of the capability to respond to threats and to change.

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The union at Europe’s heart is frayed

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold at press conference in Berlin. Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Elysee Treaty – the document signed by Paris and Berlin in an attempt to turn two hostile neighbours and rivals into allies, and to ultimately lay the groundwork for the European Union. As IISS Chairman Francois Heisbourg points out in the Financial Times, it comes at a time of strain in the Franco-German partnership.

France’s Le Monde newspaper has already been very dismissive about the scheduled joint session of the French and German parliaments in Berlin’s Reichstag building today. Heisbourg writes that: ‘From the eurozone crisis to intervention in Libya and Mali, and the failed merger of EADS and BAE Systems, the differences and tensions between Paris and Berlin are palpable.’

He admits that shaping a joint strategic future takes time, but says that France and Germany have recently lost the will to overcome other national differences – a process aided by their shifting relative strength, the expansion of the EU, and the arrival of a new generation of leaders ‘who no longer carry the historical baggage of the founding fathers’.

Yet the factor that could now have the biggest impact on France and Germany’s partnership is a third player: Britain.

Read the article at the Financial Times (subscription required)


Creating more jobs for Arab youth

How do you reduce the high levels of youth unemployment in the Arab world? On average one-quarter of the eligible under-24s in the region remain jobless, a factor widely recognised as having contributed to the uprisings known as the Arab Spring. Many believe the Middle East faces further instability if the situation does not change soon.

An IISS-US panel this week discussed ways of creating more jobs for Arab youths in the post-revolutionary era. However, speakers said that new governments had often lacked the capacity to meet their young citizens’ high expectations, and frustrations remained. IISS senior fellow Alanoud Al-Sharekh added that the crisis in the eurozone was having a negative impact in some nearby North African countries.

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‘The euro is irreversible’

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

Klaus Regling, head of the European Union’s bailout fund, says the EU is moving in the right direction after its debt crisis, but that Greece’s future in the eurozone depends on its progress in meeting the terms of its bailout.

Speaking at the fifth IISS Fullerton lecture in Singapore, Regling, the CEO of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), was cautiously optimistic about the future of the euro and of the EU. Regling said structural reforms and action taken by EU governments to address the sovereign debt crisis were beginning to show signs of success:  ‘Ireland shows now a current account surplus after sizable deficits in earlier years, Spain is getting very close to a current account balance [and] Greece and Portugal have reduced their current account deficits by two thirds,’ he said. Read the rest of this entry »


Merkel in China

Bilateral meeting between Angela Merkel and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Mexico (photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel)

Bilateral meeting between Angela Merkel and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Mexico (photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel)

By Dr Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-economics and Strategy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s second visit to China in a year comes against the backdrop of dire forecasts of a difficult September for the eurozone. Mindful of such concerns and persistent pessimism in global financial markets, Merkel is now taking bold political initiatives at home and overseas. Indeed, her China trip should be seen as an effort to assert leadership across the eurozone.

At home, Merkel recently sent out a clear message to her critics that Germany must pay a price for eurozone leadership. She cautioned her colleagues against loose talk about a ‘Grexit’ – Greece’s exit from the eurozone – and assured visiting Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras that Germany remained committed to his country’s membership of the eurozone.

While it required courage to take such a tough stance, doing so helped to bolster her position at home and throughout the eurozone. There is now no doubt that Merkel is willing to commit Germany to the cause of preserving both the European Union and the eurozone, and that she will work to achieve that goal. If she succeeds, she will emerge as the first great European leader of the twenty-first century.  Read the rest of this entry »


Euro pique

Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy at the EU-Mexico bilateral summit at Los Cabos (Phot copyright: Council of the European Union

By Dr Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival

Last week was another bad one for the euro, with the eruption of a particular brand of pique that I’m frankly surprised we haven’t seen more of. At the G20 meeting in Mexico, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission, reacted badly to a Canadian journalist’s question about why North Americans should ‘risk their assets’ to support the Europeans. ‘Frankly’, replied Barroso, ‘we are not here to receive lessons in terms of democracy or in terms of how to handle the economy. This crisis was not originated in Europe … this crisis originated in North America and much of our financial sector was contaminated by, how can I put it, unorthodox practices from some sectors of the financial market.’

Barroso was right, of course, and he was also spectacularly wrong. He was right about the origins of the crisis, and he might have added something about long-running imbalances of American over-borrowing against Chinese over-saving that fed the housing bubble. But this would have raised the awkward parallel problem of chronic imbalances within the eurozone, such as those that fed Spain’s real-estate bubble. Except in the relatively minor case of Greece, government spending had little to do with it.

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Europe: A crisis of leadership?

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso – who defiantly told the G20 meeting yesterday that American capitalism was to blame for the eurozone crisis – wouldn’t agree. However, as talks continue to form a government in Greece and Spain has been forced to delay  an audit of banks amid fears that a bailout could top €100 billion, our Director for Geo-economics and Strategy Sanjaya Baru argues in his column this week for the Indian Express that ‘at the core of the financial crisis in Europe there is a leadership crisis’.

The EU has struggled to articulate ‘an idea of Europe’ and so to offer continent-wide solutions to continent wide problems, Baru says. ‘The challenge for the EU is to find its Ambedkar’ he suggests, referring to B.R. Ambdekar, the jurist and social reformer who spearheaded the drafting of the Indian Constitution.

Read the article at the Indian Express


Greece: one more step towards stability

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Lucas Papademos, Greek Prime Minister (Photo: The Council of the European Union)
By Alexander Nicoll, Director of Editorial

Step by step, the eurozone debt crisis is being dealt with. During the market hysteria of the second half of 2011, the very survival of the euro as a common currency seemed to be in doubt. That is not being questioned today. The €130bn bailout deal reached in all-night talks by Greece, its fellow eurozone members, the International Monetary Fund and private creditors is one more step towards stability.

For months, it seemed that governments were fumbling in the face of the crisis that was engulfing them. If Italy and Spain had been forced to join Greece, Ireland and Portugal in needing rescue finance, then the consequences for the euro and Europe would have been severe. But, as the IISS wrote in a recent Strategic Comment, a combination of measures has eased the tensions:   changes of government in Greece, Italy and Spain; a ‘fiscal compact’ agreed by 25 European Union members, holding the promise of greater harmony in economic policies; and the European Central Bank’s injection of unlimited three-year finance into the banking system.

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Keeping the euro limping along

By Dr Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival

Survival, in my arguably biased view, has offered excellent coverage of the eurozone crisis. Two mainstays of that coverage joined me today for a panel at the IISS London headquarters. The first was Erik Jones, Professor of European Studies at the SAIS Bologna Center of the Johns Hopkins University, founding director of the new Bologna Institute for Policy Research, and a Contributing editor of Survival, whose latest piece on the subject, ‘Italy’s Sovereign Debt Crisis‘, is in the current issue. The second was Alexander Nicoll, IISS Director of Editorial, and a former Financial Times journalist, wrote a piece in the previous issue called ‘Fiscal Union by Force‘. Both speakers argued that Europe’s leaders, while hardly solving the underlying crisis, have done enough to keep the euro limping along. In providing massive liquidity to European banks in particular, the European Central Bank under Mario Draghi has accomplished by the back door at least part of what the eurozone needs in the way of a lender of last resort. None of this is sufficient to restore EU self-confidence and dispel the spectre of a Japanese-style lost decade. But it may head off a kind of sovereign-debt apocalypse. The full discussion is well worth watching.


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